‘I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir…’
Robert Eggers is probably the most exciting director in the world right now. The Witch and The Lighthouse is as good an introduction to any directors work since Tarantino announced himself to the world with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction in the ’90s. The Northman marks Eggers first studio movie, and subsequently this is the first time that he has had to forgo final cut. Talk of a difficult shoot and compromise may have dampened enthusiasm somewhat, but forget that noise, The Northman is as wild and untameable as any of Eggers’ previous work. Let’s jump in…
When Amleth’s (Alexander Skarsgård) father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) is murdered by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), Amleth devotes his life to avenging his father and rescuing his mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). To aid him on his quest, Amleth is joined by slave girl Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and a pair of mystics played by Willem Dafoe and Bjork.
2022 promises to go down as a stellar year in cinematic history. Everything Everywhere All at Once, Top Gun: Maverick, Prey, X, Scream, Men, The Grey Man, The Batman, The Lost City, Nightmare Alley, The Black Phone, Red Rocket, The Worst Person in the World… heck, even Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was great. The Northman almost threatens to overshadow all of them. Despite being caught up in the studio system for the first time (something Eggers has suggested won’t be happening again any time soon), this doesn’t feel like a compromise or a typical studio movie. This is a film that presents us with trippy, psychedelic sequences featuring a wild-eyed Willem Dafoe. At one point, Taylor-Joy wipes her period blood on another character’s face. This is a 137 minute thrill ride from start to finish, culminating in a third act that beats out any other film released in 2022 thus far. Compromise this ain’t.
Eggers’ long time cinematographer Jarin Blaschke again excels himself. Any budding filmmaker should be made to watch the sequences that take place at night as it is startling how many big budget movies seem incapable of using light and shadow to their benefit. Everything here looks incredible, from the washed out greys and blues, to the use of chiaroscuro lighting, to the costumes and set design. This is a truly beautiful movie.
This backdrop allows Skarsgård and Bang to weave their magic, the former, who also came up with the concept, gives a career best performance and would be absolutely deserving of an Oscar nomination that no doubt won’t be forthcoming. Taylor-Joy sacrifices some of her own natural spark in the service of the story, but both Bang and Kidman deliver multi-faceted and nuanced performances, with the latter breathing new life into the third act just as the revenge narrative is beginning to feel stale.
In reality; however, The Northman is not the work of any one actor. Instead, this is an ensemble cast at the height of their powers, working with a visionary director in unique circumstances. If this is to be Eggers’ only studio movie, hold it close, for it is truly a work of genius.